ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 27: The St. Louis Cardinals celebrate after David Freese #23 hits a walk off solo home run in the 11th inning to win Game Six of the MLB World Series against the Texas Rangers at Busch Stadium on October 27, 2011 in St Louis, Missouri. The Cardinals won 10-9. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Twice down to their final strike, the Cardinals refused to lose, and David Freese's walk-off home run in the bottom of the 11th inning guaranteed a Friday night Game 7.
You have to understand my situation, here. I started writing this recap when the Cardinals were trailing the Rangers 7-4 in the seventh inning, and it looked like the Rangers were going to win their first-ever World Series. Even when the Cardinals threatened in the eighth, I kept on working through, because what were the odds that the Rangers would give it away? What were the odds that Neftali Feliz would blow a two-run save?
A lot of words were written, and, completely unregrettably, a lot of words were erased. The Rangers may well win their first-ever World Series in Friday night's Game 7, but they did not get the job done on Thursday, as they lost what was easily one of the most absolutely amazing baseball games ever played. The last day of the regular season was memorable because it brought three games and a pair of historic collapses together at once. This night was memorable because it condensed all that into one game, and that game was Game 6 of the World Series.
I'm still shaking. I don't have a particular rooting interest, and I'm still shaking. I guess we should discuss the actual events of Thursday's Game 6. There were a lot of them. Thursday's Game 6 was among the most wild and, at times, sloppy baseball games I've ever seen in my life. Especially in the playoffs. The early part of this game in one tweet:
Ozzie wasn't referring to the excitement level - the game was very exciting. But for a while it was not particularly well-played, by either side.
On to the event sequence! The Rangers got off to an immediate hot start against Jaime Garcia in the top of the first. A walk and two consecutive singles drove home the game's first run, and put men on the corners with nobody out. Garcia escaped the jam without any further damage, but the Rangers got off on the right foot.
It took mere minutes for the Cardinals to surge in front. They did it with two swings of the bat. One was a Skip Schumaker single. The other was a Lance Berkman home run to center field. The Cardinals' cleanup hitter turned the game around in an instant.
But then it took the Rangers a few minutes to get one of the runs right back. With two on, Colby Lewis bunted into a disastrous double play, but Ian Kinsler picked him up by doubling into the left-center gap to score Craig Gentry. With that, the game was even 2-2.
That's where it remained into the top of the fourth. Fernando Salas took over for Garcia in the fourth, as Garcia didn't have his command, and the first batter Salas saw lifted a routine pop to left. Matt Holliday made it anything but routine.
It's not the first time Holliday had dropped a fly ball in the playoffs, and the Rangers made him pay when Mike Napoli followed Cruz with a single down the right field line. Cruz came around from second to put Texas in the lead.
It didn't take long for the Cardinals to strike back. Leading off the bottom of the fourth, Berkman grounded a ball to first base that Michael Young couldn't field cleanly, allowing Berkman to reach. Holliday subsequently drew a walk, and a pair of grounders later, the Cards evened the score 3-3.
Two innings in a row. Two innings in a row that happened, and Hamilton made it to first. He scored moments later when Michael Young ripped a double into the gap. Hamilton's been playing through an injury and one might've expected him to be slow, but he flew around three bases.
Two outs later, Salas was almost out of the jam, but then he intentionally walked Mike Napoli, and walked David Murphy to load the bases. Ron Washington could've gone for the kill by using a pinch-hitter. Instead he allowed Colby Lewis to bat, and Lewis, predictably, struck out. It was a perplexing move at the time, and it's still perplexing now.
The Rangers hung on to their 4-3 lead for...an inning. Then the Cardinals tied it in the bottom of the sixth. They tied it in maybe the worst way possible. Berkman picked up an infield single. An infield single! Holliday reached base when Young fumbled another easy play, this time after taking the ball out of his glove. Freese walked, and then Alexi Ogando came in and walked Yadier Molina. Just like that, the Cardinals were tied, and they had the bases loaded with one out against a wild reliever.
Matt Holliday. Matt Holliday got picked off at third base by Mike Napoli, having strayed too far for no reason, and worse, Holliday injured his finger on the play. But the Cardinals weren't done threatening. Ogando threw a wild pitch, and Nick Punto walked to load the bases again for Jon Jay, but Derek Holland came in and retired Jay to escape the jam and preserve the tie.
The tie didn't last long. Adrian Beltre led off the seventh inning against Lance Lynn with a home run. Nelson Cruz followed with a home run. They were the first back-to-back homers in the World Series since Chase Utley and Ryan Howard in 2008, and they put the Rangers in front 6-4. They extended their lead shortly thereafter when Ian Kinsler singled home Holland from second base. Don't fret, Holland didn't actually get a hit or a walk - he reached on a fielder's choice after laying down a lousy bunt.
So the Cardinals were behind by three runs, and down to their final nine outs. After a 1-2-3 seventh, they were down to the final six outs. Then they showed some life in the bottom of the eighth. With one out, Allen Craig took Holland deep to left field for a solo homer. Then with two outs, Molina singled, Daniel Descalso delivered an infield single when Elvis Andrus hesitated, and Jay singled to load the bases. Rafael Furcal came up with a chance to tie the game or even put the Cards in front, but Mike Adams got him to tap back to the mound.
Threat escaped. To the ninth everybody went, and after the Rangers went down fairly easily, it was up to Neftali Feliz to slam the door.
R Theriot strikes out swinging
A Pujols doubles to center field
L Berkman walks
Eep. Feliz followed that by falling behind Craig 2-0. With the Busch Stadium crowd on its feet, though, Feliz recovered to freeze Craig with a 2-2 slider.
And so it all came down to Freese. Freese, who made that critical error, but who had been a force so often in the playoffs before. Freese took a ball, then he took a strike, then he swung through a strike. Down to the last strike, Freese swung at a 98 mile-per-hour outside fastball and...lined it, off the right field wall, for a two-run, game-typing triple.
Nelson Cruz has looked more graceful before, and suddenly, improbably, it was even. Molina tried to end it two pitches later, but his liner to right was within Cruz's range.
In a situation nobody could have predicted, and that everybody could have predicted, it was 7-7 going to the tenth. Jason Motte picked up an easy first out before Andrus singled back up the middle. That brought up Josh Hamilton, and the player who admitted that he's been going at 50 percent for months jumped all over a first-pitch fastball:
It was Hamilton's first home run since September 23, and it gave the Rangers another two-run lead - this one 9-7. Mitch Moreland and Beltre made outs to end the frame, but Ron Washington got to hand the ball to a reliever in a save situation for the second inning in a row.
The reliever was Darren Oliver, as the Cardinals had a pair of lefties and the pitcher's spot due up. The pitcher's spot, with no remaining players on the bench. Screwed, right? Wrong! Descalso pulled a ground ball single into right. Jay then dropped a blooper in front of Murphy in left. Suddenly it didn't matter so much that the Cardinals had the pitcher batting, as Kyle Lohse pinch-hit to drop down a successful sacrifice bunt.
That brought Ryan Theriot, and that brought Scott Feldman out of the Ranger bullpen. Feldman got Theriot to bounce a grounder to third, and though the grounder scored a run, it again left the Cardinals behind with one out to go. It was all up to
Pujols Berkman, as Pujols was intentionally walked. It usually goes against convention to put the winning run on base, but Washington respects Pujols that much.
Berkman stood in with the outfielders playing as deep as outfielders can play, trying to prevent a double. So what did Berkman do? He did what you had to expect he would do - he got to two strikes and knocked a single into center. For the second inning in a row, the Cardinals stared their 2011 mortality in the face, and for the second inning in a row, The Cardinals came back.
Feldman stopped the bleeding there, and we advanced to the 11th. Jake Westbrook emerged from the St. Louis bullpen and made fairly quick work of the Rangers, pitching around a one-out bloop single. That took things to the bottom half, and Washington called upon Mark Lowe to take over on the mound. Lowe, for what it's worth, hadn't pitched in a game since September 20.
Lowe faced Freese and immediately fell behind 3-0. He fought back with a couple strikes, but with the count full...
David Freese made one of the worst errors you can make, and it cost his team in Game 6 of the World Series. Innings later, David Freese was the hero, and two innings after that, David Freese was the hero again.
We'll see you Friday!